Sunday, January 2, 2011

Gable and me.

I knew who Dan Gable was when I was in high school. His exploits were well known to me, first at Waterloo West and then at Iowa State University. In 1969 or 70 (I don’t really remember which), I went to Ames to watch him wrestle. A friend of mine wrestled at Augustana College in Rock Island and was going to the meet and asked me to ride along and maybe share the driving. That night planted the seed that would blossom into my love for wrestling.

I remember one Sunday morning when I opened the Medd-O-Lane/Dairy Queen where I worked, bringing in the newspapers and seeing, “Gable Fails”.

In 1972 I watched on ABC as he and one of the greatest American freestyle teams ever assembled dominated the wrestling competition. Commentator, Frank Gifford, called Dan the most dedicated athlete he’d ever seen.

Somewhere in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, I went to my first University of Iowa dual meet. I didn’t go to many in those years, but we’re blessed in Iowa with Iowa Public Television College Wrestling broadcasts and I rarely missed one of those.

When my wife and I started dating in 1989 she bought our first Iowa season tickets. We’ve been in the same seats ever since.

I first met Dan in 1993. I was doing a little business with Eric and Adam Heneghan, who owned a small advertising agency, video production/editing company called Giant Step Productions. Eric had wrestled for Gable and some of their first work was producing videos for Dan. Once we learned of our mutual interest in wrestling, we generally spent more time talking about that than business.

Their studio was on the third floor of an older house not too far from the Iowa campus. One day I had an appointment with them and either Adam or Eric (I forget now) met me at the bottom of the outside steps that led up to the studio. He said, “You’re a big wrestling fan, right? Don’t you have season tickets?” I was puzzled because these were things we discussed frequently. I opened the door and was greeted by, “Hi, I’m Dan Gable.” My witty response – “I know.”

I’ve been known to have the occasional alcoholic beverage at the Cedar Rapids Marriott. I’ve also been known to talk endlessly about wrestling while there. One day I went in and a young bartender said, “Here, I have something for you.” It was a bar napkin with Gable’s autograph. Dan had been speaking at an I-Club meeting the night before and this young man (thank you, Chris) had made a point of getting the autograph for me. It is one of my most prized possessions.

Last year I launched Tickets for Kids. One day an envelope arrived with one of those pre-printed return address labels, “Dan Gable, Iowa City, IA”. It contained a check to Tickets for Kids. My wife asked if I was going to frame the check. Nope – I used it for what Dan intended – sending some kids to last season’s Division III Championships.

I framed the envelope.

I met Dan for the second time at a breakfast honoring longtime wrestling coach, athletic director and development director at both Coe and Cornell, Barron Bremner. The event was sponsored by what is now called the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum and he and I were both speakers at the event. He was still on crutches from the broken leg he had suffered in November, but he was gracious to everyone that wanted to talk to him – including me.

Shortly after that I learned that I had been awarded the National Wrestling Coaches Dan Gable “America Needs Wrestling Award”. I was stunned. It is a tremendous honor to have my name associated in any way with his. It’s also quite humbling.

Dan officially retired from the University of Iowa Friday. The Cedar Rapids Gazette is featuring him in today’s edition. Several people are sharing their memories of Gable – including the infamous Barry Davis Hy Vee doughnut story.

My most lasting images of Dan Gable are both from the 1997 NCAA Championships. The first – pounding his crutch on the floor and yelling, “Strongest man in the world” when Jesse Whitmer won his title. Then when Bob Siddens handed Gable the team championship trophy – I cried.

I suspect it’s not going to be a leisurely retirement. He loves this sport more than most of us can imagine and I’m guessing he’s just getting ready to ramp up even greater efforts to grow the “world’s oldest and greatest sport” in America.

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